Silver Lining

Secrets of marketing to the mature consumer.
Magazine Contributor
8 min read

This story appears in the June 1997 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Secrets of to the mature consumer.

In this excerpt, experts from market research firm Yankelovich Partners analyze what motivates one of 's three major generational groups--the Matures--to buy.

They are and Bob Hope, Joe DiMaggio and John Steinbeck, Walter Cronkite and Ann Landers. Matures were America's first Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Now they are the country's first "senior citizens." On the journey from Scout meetings to Sun City, this generation triumphed over the Great , vanquished the Germans and the Japanese and, in the process, built the suburbs and shopping malls of middle-class America.

The members of the Matures' generation were born between the turn of the century and the end of World War II. This generation includes two waves of consumers--the G.I.s, who came first and set the tone, and the Silents, who came next and flowed quietly, for the most part, into the mold.

Because they largely shared the same generational experiences, the G.I.s and the Silents developed the same basic values and motivations. They experienced economic upheaval during childhood. Discipline and self-sacrifice were cornerstones of their outlook as they came of age. At formative stages in their lives, the G.I.s and Silents were bound together, first by common goals like overcoming the Great Depression and building suburban America, and also by the necessity to defeat common enemies--Germany and , then the Soviet Union and China.

Things weren't easy, but that was OK. Growing up in the shadow of the Depression, they understood the necessity and virtue of hard work.

Matures believed that a lifetime of commitment was required to accomplish their goals. Duty came before pleasure. The job to be done required that they postpone their own gratification. Rationing in World War II, tax dollars sent overseas for the Marshall Plan, years given to military service, scrimping during hard times all taught Matures self-sacrifice. Anything worthwhile meant giving up something else. Anything extra or left over had to be banked.

Matures prospered by thinking and doing together. Progress was assured as long as everyone followed the rules of the road and moved united in the same direction. Matures developed this unity by conforming to a larger system of values that emphasized hard work as its own reward, financial security through savings, the good of the group before that of the individual, and a belief that the good life had to be earned.

Though Matures have always had to sacrifice to meet the demands of conformity, they have also always succeeded. Therefore, conformity and fitting in have been linked for them to success.

Marketing Moves

Smart marketers should take a lesson from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)--don't treat Matures as decrepit or broken-down. Marketers must avoid depicting older consumers in negative ways. Even Matures who are not as active and healthy as they would like to be dislike advertising assaults that remind them of their problems.

Marketers commonly err by emphasizing the biological age of their consumers. A few years ago, a major personal-products company introduced a shampoo aimed at older women. The advertising explicitly mentioned that the product was designed especially for women over 40. There may be perfectly good reasons to switch to a different shampoo as you age, but the emphasis on age ensured that the product would be unpalatable to any self-respecting 40-plus-year-old.

A series of TV ads that Disney World aired is a prime example of how to appeal to Matures without pandering to them. In one of these ads, Boomer parents are pictured at home with their children, wondering aloud about what on earth their parents could be doing at Disney World. Then the camera shifts to the faces of two happy, healthy older people in the Magic Kingdom. They are playing golf, swimming, dancing late into the night. For Matures, the ad makes a strong appeal to their conviction that they have earned a rich and full retirement--and are still young enough to enjoy it.

Marketers can reach this practical, hard-working generation as they enjoy their retirement but not by selling products for "old people." They have to be smarter than that. Focus instead on themes that leverage the way Matures are motivated to buy.

Play to the notion that this generation overcame daunting odds to achieve their successes. Don't be loud or brash; they already get the point. After working hard and sacrificing for so many years, they have reached a level of financial comfort and a time in their lives where they can feel freer to spend money on themselves . . . because they've earned it.

For most of their peak consuming years, Matures have foregone the extras. But this is not to say that Matures never spent money. Indeed, their spending built our contemporary consumer marketplace. Their style of spending, however, reflected the more cautious, disciplined values of their savings-focused outlook. Even as Matures spent, they actually saved a lot of money. And much of this spending was for others anyway, especially their children.

As they age, satisfied and secure, Matures will begin to spend more money on themselves. But they won't turn into profligate spendthrifts in the mold of their Boomer children. Our research shows that consumers 65 years old and older are the least likely to be cutting back on food purchases, shopping less, or adhering more strictly to a budget. They are also less likely to buy large, sizes or cut back on eating out. Part of this, of course, reflects older consumers with less flexibility in their lives. But it mostly shows that Matures have reached a level of financial comfort.

Nevertheless, [Matures'] interest in pleasurable or exciting experiences for their own sake is low. They are not now and never have been as hedonistic as Boomers. They want to enjoy life, but they don't want to go overboard. The overriding attitude here is that they have enough money to enjoy their retirement, and they plan to do so--wisely and responsibly.

Travel and leisure opportunities will grow as well. Matures have [always] thought of leisure as a reward for hard work. After a lifetime of work, now is the time for these rewards. Consumers who restricted their vacations to two-week car trips every summer are suddenly willing to pay $500 for a titanium golf club or $2,000 for a Caribbean cruise.

All In The Attitude

Advertising and campaigns should emphasize the value of experience and wisdom. Turn a youth-oriented medium on its head by aiming for older customers and giving them recognition for the contributions that their counsel can make. Tie your product or service to their ability to know the best value. Get your message into the unique channels that they rely upon to make a purchase decision. For example, while [Generation] Xers rely on their peers for guidance about new products, Matures are more likely to turn to established institutions and authority figures. Celebrities like Jimmy Stewart and Katharine Hepburn have a strong influence among older consumers.

Don't assume, however, that they will simply swallow anything they hear or read. Even Matures are tired of being taken advantage of. The key here is to make sure you design your message to fit the core values of this generation, especially values like frugality, responsibility and caution.

Some products and services won't make it even with a generationally appropriate message. Without [a broader appeal], Matures won't feel comfortable enough to buy them. So be on the lookout for ways to expand your focus and emphasize benefits that cross over all generations. This will let Matures respond to those benefits without feeling like they are stigmatizing themselves.

For example, large-type books have never been big sellers because they carry the stigma of being for old people. Just put bigger letters on your packaging. Don't market it as packaging for old people. Matures will recognize the benefits without being told, and they can respond to your product without having to link themselves to an old person's product.

Similarly, restaurants trying to attract Matures should invest in better lighting, inside and outside. Matures will feel safer driving into a bright parking lot, and they will be less likely to fall. Besides, we all want a clean, well-lighted place.

Over the years, we have worked with clients who automatically reject any consumer 50 years of age and older as a target for their brands. The rule of thumb is 18 to 49. We always have considered any rule like this short-sighted, but it will be especially so in the future. Matures are starting to spend more aggressively than any older consumer group before them. And they will buy loyally from marketers who speak to their core values and motivations in generationally appealing ways.

Contact Source

From Rocking the Ages by J. Walker Smith and Ann Clurman. Copyright (c) 1997 by J. Walker Smith and Ann Clurman. Reprinted by arrangement with HarperBusiness, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers Inc. To order, call (800) 242-7737.


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